House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has dropped out of the race for Speaker of the House. “Lol” might be the most dishonestly used term in the English language, but I woke up, saw the headline, and laughed out loud. Then my mirth turned to sadness. This is terrible news for our American democracy.
The Tea Party officially has taken the GOP hostage, and the Republican establishment is in complete disarray. First, former Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in a stunning Virginian Republican primary upset by a Tea Partier running to the right of Cantor. Then current Speaker of the House Boehner was forced to announce his resignation in order to pass a somewhat routine legislative measure intending merely to keep the government from shutting down. Now McCarthy’s potential Speakership has similarly been politically guillotined by a fully radicalized Tea Party.
The Republican leadership has been virtually dethroned, and establishment Republicans may be the most endangered species on Earth. Like actual rhinos, the Republican-In-Name-Only RINOs are being hunted into extinction. Metaphorically, of course, though sometimes the rhetoric against RINOs turns frighteningly literal.
Last week I wrote that the same Tea Party catch-22 that exiled Boehner was waiting for McCarthy or whoever would become the next Speaker of the House, but that catch-22 toppled McCarthy before he was even elected. In immediate hindsight, McCarthy dropping out is not very surprising at all.
McCarthy explained his exit as concern that his victory would not be unanimous enough, or a bold enough change in leadership. This leaves the Republican Party without a plan to replace Boehner, and it appears likely that he will have to put off his resignation, planned for the end of this month, until a new Speaker can be elected.
McCarthy had been facing two relatively token opponents in the Speaker race, Representatives Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida in what seemed like an easy transition to replace Boehner. But with the controversy surrounding McCarthy’s recent comments suggesting that the Select Committee on Benghazi’s investigation of the 2012 terror attack is politically motivated to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, McCarthy’s campaign got off to a rocky start. His campaign has not gotten any easier with a series of clips showcasing McCarthy’s grammar issues being mocked by Stephen Colbert and Rachel Maddow among others, and resistance to McCarthy’s campaign has grown.
But the bad-for-democracy thing is that McCarthy still had majority support with House Republicans. The Tea Party is simply taking advantage of the Republicans’ hopes for party unity, and they essentially have again held the GOP hostage by withholding their votes and derailing establishment, consensus-driven strategy.
This is not a new trick, and the last government shutdown in 2013 led by Ted Cruz followed the same tactics. Ted Cruz, emboldened by his radical presidential campaign, was shut down last month by his Republican Senate colleagues after trying to derail Senate strategy, but the hostage-taking tactics obviously are still effective in the House.
With the political sphere still stunned by McCarthy’s sudden decision to drop out, there is very little indication what the Republican Party establishment is going to do. However, the establishment has been considerably emasculated by Tea Party radicalism in that the more that the Tea Party wants to radicalize the Republican House, the more likely it is that the Republican establishment will need to rely on Democratic votes in order to elect the next Speaker. This would only radicalize the Tea Party further, and taint the next Speaker with the original sin of having compromised with the Democrats.
Quite the catch-22 indeed.